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Understanding Body Fat Percentages for Women: A Visual Guide

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For the men’s visual guide to understanding body fat percentages, click here.

This guide can be used to estimate a woman’s body fat percentage by eye. In contrast to most of the the compilation photos you can find online, all of the photos in this guide were taken within a few days of having done a laboratory grade body composition measurement, namely hydrostatic weighing, DXA scanning (most commonly) or multi-frequency BIA scanning. All photos are from clients of Menno or publicly posted photos from the internet. The guide starts with photos of low to high body fat levels in different individuals and ends with compilation images of various body fat percentages.

As a semi-objective reference, the following table from the American Council on Exercise is useful to keep in mind. Many people have a distorted reference of how any body fat percentage looks, because they’ve relied on unreliable body fat measurements that were often not calibrated for athletic populations, in particular skinfold calipers with inappropriate BF% equations and single-frequency BIA scans. Objectively, even most female physique competitors do not manage to get under 12% body fat, as this comprises essential body fat levels.

ClassificationFemale body fat percentage
Essential fat10-13%
Athletes14-20%
Fitness21-24%
Average25-31%
Obese*32%+
*: I disagree with this classification. Based on the health data, I would only classify 33% as overweight and 39% as obese.

Reference by percentage

39.1%, 24.6% & 13.7% (DXA): Dr Natalia Spierings

17.4% & 17% (DXA): Bikini contest shape

21.9% vs. 17% (DXA)

21% (DXA)

20% vs. 18% (hydrostatic weighing)

22.5% (InBody)

24.5% (DXA)

25% (Multi-frequency BIA)

This is a typical feminine body fat storage pattern with most fat stored on the lower body and hips.

26% (DXA)

26% (DXA)

26.9% vs. 15.7% (DXA)

body fat percentage 30 female

32.4% (DXA)

body fat percentage 30 female

36.7% (DXA): Overweight

44% (DXA): Obese

Compilation

body fat percentage pictures female
Women’s body fat comparison compilation – front
body fat percentages women
Women’s body fat comparison compilation – back

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About the author

Menno Henselmans

Formerly a business consultant, I've traded my company car to follow my passion in strength training. I'm now an online physique coach, scientist and international public speaker with the mission to help serious trainees master their physique.

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